The case for hydrogen vans | Grid limitations will make long-distance battery-electric haulage ‘close to not possible’: Hyzon Motors CEO


For a hydrogen-fuel advocate, Craig Knight, the CEO and co-founder of US hydrogen truck and bus maker Hyzon Motors, is surprisingly cynical in regards to the zero-emissions gasoline.

He doesn’t see a shiny future for hydrogen automobiles, admits that inexperienced H2 will be thought-about an inefficient use of renewable electrical energy, believes that trucking hydrogen to filling stations is a “unhealthy” and costly technique to transfer the gasoline round, and can be not a fan of blue H2.

But on the identical time, he strongly believes that hydrogen is the one viable carbon-free answer to long-distance trucking.

“Doing just a few battery electrical vans is straightforward; doing a whole lot is close to not possible,” Knight tells Recharge. “Doing just a few fuel-cell vans is a ache within the butt; doing a whole lot is a stroll within the park.”

The Australian says that these advocating towards long-distance fuel-cell vans and in favour of battery-electric variations, such because the Fraunhofer Institute for Programs and Innovation Analysis in Germany, are lacking the next key factors:

1) That grids will be unable to deal with the sheer quantity of electrical energy required to fast-charge a number of battery vans on the identical time;

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2) That longer charging occasions for battery vans implies that an all-electric system would require eight occasions as many chargepoints as a fuel-cell lorry community;

3) That long-range truck batteries could be exceedingly heavy, decreasing the effectivity and including to the price of transporting items over lengthy distances;

4) That it will be simpler and cheaper to extend the vary of a fuel-cell truck, in comparison with a battery one;

5) That batteries require extra hard-to-obtain uncooked supplies than gasoline cells;

6) That low-cost inexperienced hydrogen will be produced regionally from waste, or comprised of electrical energy when there may be extra electrical energy, taking strain off the ability grid and eradicating the necessity to transport the H2 throughout lengthy distances.

Let’s take a look at every of his factors in flip, in addition to the arguments towards utilizing hydrogen as a street gasoline:

1) Grid limitations

One of many arguments in favour of long-distance electrical vans is {that a} new megawatt-scale EV charging normal of as much as 2MW is now beneath improvement, which might theoretically allow truck drivers so as to add 400km of vary in about 20 minutes — akin to the 10-Quarter-hour it will take to refill a hydrogen tank with the identical vary.

However Knight factors out that such chargers would require costly grid upgrades.

“Whenever you put money into that kind of charger, you have to to improve the grid provide, [I can] completely assure it,” he tells Recharge. “And it’s possible you’ll want even to improve the regional grid transmission and provide.

“After the primary 5 or ten [battery] vans, I assure you’ll have to do this.”

Knight says that a number of bus operators all over the world, together with one in Sydney, Australia, have already run into issues with the charging of a number of battery-electric buses.

[Chinese electric-bus operators] needed to pay to improve the electrical energy grid — loopy quantities of cash

“The blokes in Sydney needed to spend fairly a bit of cash [on upgrading their electricity supply] simply to get the primary 4 [battery buses] arrange. They ran these first 4 buses for a short while and the supervisor of the depot received a name at some point from the native substation operators. And so they mentioned, ‘I simply wished to speak to you about how a lot energy is definitely getting used… how massive is your depot? [The depot manager] mentioned, ‘Oh, we have about 140 buses. They mentioned, ‘Oh proper, no surprise you are utilizing a lot energy’. And the man on the bus depot says, ‘however we have solely received 4 battery buses’.

“And the electrical energy provider man goes, ‘You are telling me, you are utilizing this a lot energy charging 4 buses? In that case, I higher simply verify what number of you’ll be capable to cost earlier than you max out the grid’. And the bus operator mentioned, ‘yeah, you higher inform us what number of, as a result of we fairly like these battery buses, we’re planning to get extra’.

“He [the power supplier] mentioned, ‘your most variety of buses in that location right here in Sydney with this grid is six buses. In the event you cost at a better price than that, we’ll merely flip you off… since you’ll pull down the [grid for the] complete inside west [area] of Sydney, it may possibly’t maintain this quantity of energy.”

Knight continues: “I spoke to the CEO of that enterprise and he mentioned, that to them was the dawning of their realisation of the place this crossover level between batteries and hydrogen actually is. It’s quite a bit decrease down the curve than individuals assume. And I’ve heard very comparable tales from truck and bus operators who’ve tried battery electrification.”

The Hyzon boss provides that heavy-vehicle gasoline stops on the freeway usually refill dozens of diesel vans on the identical time. That is partly as a result of “vans journey in packs… so wherever you’ve received one truck wanting a quick cost, you’ll have much more”.

Hyzon Motors is a spin-off from Singapore-based Horizon Gas Cell Applied sciences that began buying and selling as a standalone firm on the Nasdaq trade in July final 12 months.

Based mostly in Rochester, New York state, it manufactures heavy-duty hydrogen fuel-cell vans, buses and coaches.

The corporate delivered 95 business automobiles in 2021, together with eight on trial leases. However it expects to ship about 5,000 vans and buses by 2023, with annual gross sales of 40,000 automobiles by 2025.

If the identical variety of battery electrical vans tried to concurrently fast-charge on the identical location, “that may suck down staggering megawatts of energy from the grid”, he explains.

“You must multiply 1-2MW per charger by what number of vans have to cost [simultaneously]. And these roadside places can’t ship that a lot energy. So maybe the improve to all that fast-charging infrastructure really brings with it multi-billion-dollar electrical energy infrastructure upgrades that have to occur all over the place you’d need to cost [battery] vans.”

Knight says that whereas China has one thing like 500,000 battery electrical buses in operation at this time, fleet operators “know their limitations, they know what they’ve needed to pay to improve the electrical energy grid — loopy quantities of cash. They understand how they’ve had to purchase additional land to suit charging capabilities and all the remainder of it. They know the complications of making an attempt to cost these issues each single day”.

“I’ve spoken with the operations director of the biggest electrical bus fleet in China. He mentioned to me ‘in case your expertise was the place it’s now ten years in the past, I don’t assume we’d have battery buses’.”

Knight does concede that electrical buses are greater than able to travelling over 100km a day, however he factors out that the common energy consumption of a metropolis battery bus is 20kW or much less, in comparison with 100-140kW for a Class 8 ultra-heavy truck.

A Hyzon Motors truck. Photograph: Hyzon Motors

“This isn’t an environment friendly approach to make use of batteries and the electrical energy [that would be] used to cost them. Hydrogen fuel-cell electrification presents the potential for a extra capital-efficient decarbonisation of economic fleets in a approach that may be freed from obligations on the grid, or be used as a grid service. Whenever you’ve received energy you may’t use, put it in hydrogen.”

Knight provides that the price of electrical energy varies based on how a lot renewable energy is on the grid at any given time.

“Peak energy costs in some jurisdictions are actually 5 occasions the value of off peak energy. Even when there may be time to cost the battery [truck], it could or might not be when energy is inexpensive.”

2) Recharging vs fuelling occasions

Knight says that when the US Clear Air Process Pressure investigated what could be required to decarbonise heavy street freight, it discovered that if hauliers went all-electric, eight occasions as many places could be wanted for fast-charging factors than hydrogen filling pumps if the identical variety of vans have been fuelled by hydrogen — “just because it takes a lot longer to cost and the vary is much less”.

“And this was with no reference to how the ability can really be equipped to all these places in the course of nowhere, unfold throughout the US. That energy merely doesn’t exist at this time from both a technology or transmission and supply standpoint.”

He provides {that a} hydrogen filling station with two dispensers may fill 200 vans a day, in comparison with one per hour at a future megawatt-scale fast-charger.

“I believe we are able to safely say that heavy-vehicle fast-charging is usually an inefficient use of capital,” Knight explains.

“The utilisation of high-priced property is vital and each enterprise must optimise returns on invested capital. The nearer an operator will get to 24/7 operation, the extra aggressive or worthwhile their enterprise. Suggesting {that a} recharge of 45-60 minutes [from an 800MW charger] is in any approach akin to filling with gasoline in 10 or Quarter-hour is sort of spurious, in my opinion. There are a lot of eventualities the place each minute is effective.”

The identical can’t be mentioned for fuel-cell passenger automobiles, he provides.

“Frankly, a Toyota Mirai that somebody drives 30-40 minutes within the morning and 30-40 minutes within the night, I do not assume it is a candy spot for hydrogen. The heavier [the vehicle] and the upper utilisation [ie, the number of hours per day the vehicle is in use], the more likely it is going to be a hydrogen use case.

“Your common business truck is doing two driver shifts a day, is used for 16- 20 hours a day. It is a very completely different proposition and it has a really completely different energy and vitality requirement general [than a passenger car].”

3) and 4) Vary and weight

It’s an immutable truth, says Knight, that “you may’t separate energy from vitality in batteries”.

“And the truth that you should proceed including batteries to both enhance vary or carrying capability will probably be self-defeating in some unspecified time in the future [due to the additional weight].”

Against this, to extend the vary of a fuel-cell truck, you merely add a lot lighter hydrogen tanks.

“Any time you make a automobile lighter, you want much less vitality to propel it round. In order that automobile is extra environment friendly for each single mile you drive. So it’s fascinating that these criticising round-trip effectivity of [renewable] hydrogen don’t trouble to say the inefficiency of carting [around] additional tonnes of batteries.

“So each fuel-cell truck that may both run extra effectively or carry extra payload than the equal battery truck is delivering a real-world profit in business transport, which as everyone knows may be very aggressive world.”

5) No uncooked materials constraints

Knight believes that the demand for sure uncooked supplies utilized in batteries, comparable to lithium, cobalt and nickel, will probably be so excessive that sooner or later it is going to be troublesome to supply them at an inexpensive value.

“With the growing shortage of lithium and different battery-chemistry metals, batteries won’t proceed declining in value. And actually, we’re beginning to see the reversal of a number of the longer-term tendencies already primarily based on shortage of provide.”

In actual fact, Norwegian analyst Rystad Power acknowledged on Tuesday that lithium costs have been 118% greater than on the finish of September 2021.

“However, hydrogen tools and gasoline cells themselves are simply beginning a cost-down trajectory as manufacturing is scaled,” Knight says. “Being much less depending on the unique metals, and with very excessive ranges of reusability and recyclability, we predict gasoline cells supply a compelling set of economics over the long run.

“In actual fact, we argue that the growing adoption of battery electrical heavy automobiles inevitably would endure from an growing marginal value of adoption. Take into consideration that. As you do extra, it will get much less financial as a result of you will have the shortage problem round batteries.”

Against this, he says, there aren’t any uncooked materials constraints on gasoline cells — the tools that converts hydrogen into useable electrical energy. Whereas PEM [proton exchange membrane] gasoline cells — which profit from a better energy density and decrease weight than alkaline fashions — use platinum as a catalyst, there will probably be no shortages of this costly metallic, Knight argues.

“Since we don’t react the platinum in a approach that makes it onerous to recuperate or reuse, we’re very comfortable to take again each single gasoline cell at finish of life from each single automobile. Why don’t you ask the entire suppliers of BEVs if they’ll take again each lifeless battery?” he asks, including that each catalytic converter in petrol and diesel automobiles additionally comprises platinum that may be simply recycled.

“I don’t consider that the world will run out of platinum in anyplace close to the identical price as it is going to be very challenged on a number of the battery chemistry uncooked supplies.”

A report final week by French funding financial institution Natixis discovered that “there may be an abundance of metallic minerals within the earth’s crust which will probably be greater than sufficient to fulfill future [energy transition] demand… However, this future mined metallic received’t come low-cost, assets are going to get an increasing number of sophisticated to use due to decrease ore grades, depth, and tighter laws”.

6) Native manufacturing of hydrogen, and the arguments towards H2

There are a number of well-known arguments towards utilizing hydrogen as a road-transport gasoline, together with:

  • The round-trip effectivity of utilizing renewable vitality to energy a fuel-cell automobile is simply 30%. In different phrases, for each 100kW of energy, solely 30kW is definitely used on the street — when considering the electrolysis course of, hydrogen storage and transport, conversion again to electrical energy by way of a gasoline cell and different vitality losses. Against this, the round-trip effectivity of a battery automobile powered by renewable vitality is 77%.
  • Renewable vitality could be used extra effectively by way of the electrical energy grid, and the world wants as a lot inexperienced energy as it may possibly get its palms on to decarbonise the grid.
  • Greater than 95% of the hydrogen being produced at this time is derived from unabated fossil fuels, so H2 automobiles can’t be thought-about zero emissions. What little renewable hydrogen exists at this time may be very costly.
  • The fossil-fuel business is pushing to provide massive quantities of blue hydrogen from fossil gasoline with carbon seize and storage. This may nonetheless end in massive quantities of CO2 emissions, as not all of it may be captured, and would proceed our reliance on methane — a really highly effective greenhouse gasoline that usually leaks.
  • Hydrogen filling stations require H2 to be trucked in on diesel-powered tankers — an costly and extremely polluting methodology of transporting a gasoline.
  • Present hydrogen filling pumps in locations like California are notoriously unreliable, usually breaking down or working out of gasoline, with ice-cold pump nozzles often freezing strong to automobiles.

Knight doesn’t dispute any of those factors, however he believes options exist to a lot of them.

“Hydrogen is all over the place — it’s actually probably the most plentiful ingredient,” he says. “To recommend it is unique or costly is to disregard the very fact it’s throughout us on a regular basis — we simply haven’t been benefiting from it.”

Potential H2 assets, which Knight refers to as “hydrogen reserves”, embody agricultural and forestry waste, municipal strong waste and landfill gasoline.

“Folks will get up and odor the roses that we’re surrounded by hydrogen. It’s simply that no person considered the landfill dump down the street as a hydrogen reserve.”

A number of waste-to-hydrogen firms have advised Recharge in recent times that their H2 will probably be cheaper to provide than renewable hydrogen from electrolysers.

“Hyzon helps native hydrogen manufacturing from regionally accessible assets. We’re pursuing many partnerships on hydrogen hub fashions, and these assets differ from solar, wind, landfill gasoline to municipal strong waste and agricultural waste. We’re not proponents of enormous centralised manufacturing on hydrogen,” Knight explains, including that trucking hydrogen to filling stations is “a foul approach” to maneuver it round — and really costly.

“There’s two sorts of shoppers that now we have within the close to time period. One kind of buyer is actively pursuing inexperienced hydrogen manufacturing or provide by way of a partnership. And the opposite kind of buyer, which we largely have in locations like Europe and China, say, ‘We all know there is a hydrogen station down [the road], we’re keen to make use of it. The hydrogen popping out of it’s not but inexperienced, however we all know it’ll go inexperienced at some point. We need to convert to hydrogen as a result of we have to know what this journey appears to be like like in our fleet operation’.”

As for the prevailing unstable hydrogen filling pumps, Knight says: “The refilling stations on the streets in California are frankly not a business proposition. They’re striving to make it viable over time, however they’re a showcase. They’re not designed to be significantly strong or very viable, in our view.

“However, robustly designed high-capacity heavy-vehicle stations with in-built redundancy of key components are totally extra dependable and reliable.”

And whereas Knight agrees that inexperienced H2 will be thought-about an inefficient use of electrical energy, he states that it’s “an efficient and steady technique of storing vitality”, significantly if extra electrical energy have been to be diverted to electrolysers.

Nonetheless, the issue with this argument is that if electrolysers are solely used often, the levelised value of the inexperienced hydrogen they produce could be very excessive, as a result of excessive capital expenditure.

And whereas Knight that clear hydrogen is dear at this time, he believes prices will come down with economies of scale.

“What’s been the dimensions impact on batteries? What’s been the dimensions impact on solar energy?” he asks, pointing to the large value reductions seen in recent times.

“We are going to see an expertise curve drive prices down considerably… there’s been an growing cadence of traders, governments, vitality gamers asserting inexperienced hydrogen manufacturing vegetation. It’s now huge.

“So in our view… prices will fall considerably by way of the entire hydrogen manufacturing means.”

Knight concludes: “Given the multiplier impact that every piece of hydrogen infrastructure has and the bettering marginal economics from growing adoption of fuel-cell electrical vans, we emphasise our view that fuel-cell vans are future proof.”

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